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TitleDiscovery into replacing paid for typefaces
GoalTo find out the feasibility of using a free typeface (or typefaces) that are similar to Foundry Sterling/Origin and have the same set of qualities as a paid face
Pivotal story


  • Replace Foundry typefaces (Sterling and Origin) with Noto Sans and Noto Serif
  • (Short term) Implement web fonts via Google Fonts with a reduced number of weight variants
  • (Long term) Host web fonts locally for maximum flexibility


After considering the myriad options available on Google Fonts, we narrowed down possible contenders to a short list of 7 freely available, open source licensed typefaces.

Shortlist of typeface alternatives


No. of styles available in Google Fonts

AttributesLink to Google fontCyrillic/LatinOpinion
20,000,000Open SansGoogle10

Humanist sans-serif

Used by Liberal Democrats and Co-operative policatical party

Has a family of condensed and other symbols (Noto sans) although limited font weights

Inspired by traditional signs and posters in Montserrat neightbourhood

Has a family of alternative characters, and (uppercase) underlined characters wide
17,000,000RobotoGoogle for Android12

Neo-grotesque sans-serif

Has a family of condensed, mono and slab serif fonts

Created for Android narrow and upright
4,300,000Source Sans ProPaul D. Hunt, Adobe12

Grotesque and Humanist sans-serif

Has a family of code, serif, CJK sans and serif fonts
280,000Alegreya Sans14

Humanist sans-serif

Intended for literature

Has a sister serif font calligraphic
230,000Fira SansCarrios, Mozilla18

Humanist sans-serif

Has family of condensed and extra condensed fonts

Made in a Berlin Foundry upright, characters look isolated
840,000/520,000Noto Sans/Noto SerifGoogle8 (4 Sans, 4 Serif)


Noto fonts are intended to be visually harmonious across multiple languages, with compatible heights and stroke thicknesses.

YA broader range of alternative weights are available with direct self-hosting.

Final recommendation candidates

We whittled down the shortlist to 2 possible candidates typeface families:

  • Source Pro (Adobe)
  • Noto (Google)

Both typefaces have sans and serif variants and are available in a wide variety of weights and styles.

Self-hosting provides access to the full range of characters and weights, whereas Google Fonts delivers a subset of the available variants.

Source Pro (Adobe)

Type example - Sans SerifType example - SerifMore information

Visually, Source Pro looks comfortable, with some revisions to font weights and works within the current vertical rhythym.

It is Adobe's first typeface, and was conceived as a typeface for user interfaces. The creation of the typeface was inspired by the forms of the American Type Founders' Gothic by Morris Fuller Benton.

The typeface has wide language support for Latin script, including Western and Eastern European languages.

It is part of a broad family including serif, monospaced, and CJK (see below, Source Hans Sans) fonts which should help to ensure harmony across a wide variety of uses for the Uni's digital presence.

Comparisons - Source Pro

 Foundry typefacesSource Pro
Sans Serif (Lens)
Serif (Origins)

Noto (Google)

Type example - Sans SerifType example - SerifMore information

Noto helps to make the web more beautiful across platforms for all languages.

Currently, Noto covers over 30 scripts, and will cover all of Unicode in the future. This is the Sans Latin, Greek and Cyrillic family. It has Regular, Bold, Italic and Bold Italic styles and is hinted.

It is derived from Droid, and like Droid it has a serif sister family, Noto Serif.

Noto fonts for many other languages are available as web fonts from the Google Web Fonts Early Access page.

Noto fonts are intended to be visually harmonious across multiple languages, with compatible heights and stroke thicknesses.

For the currently released Noto fonts see

Comparisons - Noto

 Foundry typefacesNoto
Sans Serif (Lens)
Serif (Origins)


  1. What typefaces do we currently use?
  2. Peer review - What typefaces do our peers use and how are our peers delivering their web fonts?
  3. Pros and cons of our current set up
  4. The options available to us

What typefaces do we currently use?

Font family HostAnnual fee
Foundry OriginOrigins design£1,282 (£89 + tax / month)
Foundry Sterling

Lens design system

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Peer review

We looked at 22 HE institutions covering a mix of STEM-focused, traditional, and arts/social science-based institutions.

Peer review summary

  • There's a broad mix between organisations that self-host web fonts and those that are using free or paid-for font delivery services.
  • 50% of the HE institutions we looked at self-hosted at least one of their typefaces.
  • Google Fonts is the most popular font hosting service, closely followed by Adobe Typekit.
ServiceCostDescriptionWho uses it?
Google FontsFreeCan only use the typefaces available on the service
  • Oxford
  • Manchester
  • Bristol
  • UWE (Body font)
  • Imperial
  • Warwick
Adobe TypekitPaidCan only use the typefaces available on the service.
  • Cambridge
  • Glasgow
  • Leeds
  • York
Typography.comPaidCan only use the typefaces available on the service.
  • RCA

Fonts are stored on server or specified CDN that is not part of a 3rd party font delivery system.

These institutions are using a mix of downloaded Google Fonts, bespoke fonts and licensed fonts from services other than Google.

  • UCL
  • Kent
  • Edinburgh
  • Sheffield
  • UWE (Impact font)
  • Cardiff
  • Bournemouth
  • Aberystwyth
  • Sydney
  • Ravensbourne
  • Brighton
System fontsFreeA one-off so far. Birmingham simply opts for using pairings of widely available system fonts on both PC and Mac.
  • Birmingham

Pros and cons of our current setup

Currently we are using 3 paid for typefaces across the University of Bath website.

We are investigating the feasibility of using a free typeface (or typefaces) that are similar to Foundry Sterling/Origin and have the same set of qualities as a paid face.

  • Little to no overhead cost
  • Google font hosting service is fast
  • Self hosting means that we can configure and optimise the font files ourselves
  • Fonts may not be fully featured
  • More likely to miss ligatures and cyrillic characters
  • Loss of historic and cultural relevance 
  • Free typefaces are usually bound to a specific company or product and so have been designed as such. For example Source Sans is Adobe, Open Sans is Google, Fira Sans is Firefox
  • The proliferation of these typefaces and their free availability on services such as Google fonts has led to a very homogenised approach to typography.
    There are standardised pairings that we see time and time again, mainly as these are the pairings suggested by Google Fonts.

The options available


  • Font Squirrel
  • Google fonts
  • Web safe default/system font
  • Buy a font and self-host

Subscription (paid-for) service

  • Fontspring
  • Typekit